Universal classroom: High tech learning at Fleet School

Cdr Martin Drews explains the capabilities of the new Universal Classroom

Cdr Martin Drews, the Commandant of Fleet School Esquimalt, explains the capabilities of the new Universal Classroom to VAdm Paul Maddison (centre), Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, and other command personnel.

Last Wednesday, naval command was given an introduction into the future of Naval Training.

Cdr Martin Drews, Commandant of Fleet School Esquimalt, took VAdm Paul Maddison, Commander Royal Canadian Navy, and RAdm Bill Truelove, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific, through the capabilities of Fleet School’s new Universal Classroom.

Gone are chalk boards and overhead screens. In their place is a line of large displays on the walls, HD cameras on the ceiling and personal workstations atop desks.

The goal of the specialty classroom is to cut travel costs for those sailors needing to go elsewhere for training.

“Instead of sending someone to Halifax or another location, now we can virtually extend the classroom,” explained Cdr Drews. “We can have them learning here, and have the material be delivered from Halifax, or vice versa.”

The $397,000 system has been in use for three weeks. It allows DND to seamlessly integrate the classroom in CFB Esquimalt with its sister classroom in Halifax.

“If we don’t have an instructor with a certain expertise here we stream them in from somewhere else,” says Lt(N) Jim Meadley, the Training Technology Officer at Fleet School Esquimalt. “It allows us to create flexible and modern learning environments. We could have an instructor standing at the front of the room, we could combine two classrooms, or if the student wanted to learn on their own they could do that at their desk.”

This virtual extension of the classroom is done by way of a complex system of HD cameras, monitors, microphones, and touch screens.
Thanks to a series of pressure pads, an HD camera on the ceiling is able to track an instructor’s movement across the front of the classroom.

“No matter where they go they’re in frame and visible to everyone,” says Lt(N) Meadley. “That gives them the freedom to feel natural and move like they normally would move.”

The Mic Queue system also allows instructors to take questions in an inclusive way. If a student has a question all they have to do is push a button on their desk. This notifies the instructor, who then presses a button on their touch screen to enable the student’s mic and bring them into camera view.

“Every student knows that if they have a question they’ll be involved,” says Lt(N) Meadley. “It puts a face to a name. It’s one of the ways we’re trying to break down 7,000 kilometres and four time zones.”

The controls available to an instructor are sophisticated and easy to use. A control panel allows them to control individual student computers, displays, HD cameras, audio levels, and more.

“We wanted everything to be accessible with one touch,” says Lt(N) Meadley.

These one touch capabilities allow instructors to present material and slideshows, take questions and control what is being displayed on each student’s monitor. All of these were implemented in the name of a comfortable environment for students.

Cdr Drews explained they are now moving into an assessment phase to gauge how this capability can be leveraged by all schools, regular force and reserve in the Navy Training System, to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

While the technology is in the prototype stage, VAdm Maddison came away very optimistic about the program and what it means for the future of the navy.

“The briefing by Cdr Drews at CFFSE on the Universal Classroom was excellent,” said VAdm Maddison. “We will be able to save money while improving quality of life of our sailors through this initiative. This is video teleconferencing on steroids, and I like it!”

-Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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  1. Michel Daneau says:

    Félicitation a Cdr Martin Drews Pour ton nouveau proget de ton beau père Michel. J’attend toujours de vos Nouvelles A Bientôt Ma porte est toujours ouvertte

  2. I love the sound of this for training. I was only in
    Reserves and had to travel for courses and to have such technology available will make it more cost efficient and better for the Forces. A great learning tool and I hope it works out well. Bravo Zulu to the team that came up with this for training.

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